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Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
(1970)

Director: Waris Hussein  
Cast:
Gene Wilder, Margot Kidder, Eileen Colgan


Although it's been a long time since I have taken some sort of education course at some kind of learning institution, I am still learning a lot of things. In fact, even before the first day of preschool that I attended, I managed to learn a lot of things as well. And between the many hours I sat behind a desk in a classroom, I learned a lot as well. What I learned outside of the classroom were a lot of things about life in general, stuff that you would be hard pressed to find in most textbooks. Outside of classrooms, I have learned such things as rules of society and expectations of the average citizen. But even when I was very young, I noticed that while such rules and expectations fit most of the people around me, a lot of those rules and expectations didn't seem to fit right with me. Some of them seemed silly, or didn't have a proper explanation as to why they were as they were. I didn't know what to call a person like myself who thought the way that I did when I was very young, but as the years went by I eventually found the definition for a person such as myself: I was a non conformist. It was a label that I didn't immediately accept at the time, but as the years went on I not only accepted the label, I embraced it fully in many aspects of my life. For example, one obvious way is with this web site, reviewing movies only a select few people may have interest in, if any that is. I get a real pleasure when I find a gem of a movie that I know the general public is completely oblivious to. On such occasions, I feel a kind of power, that I know I have stumbled onto something really special and I alone have the power to inform people about it.

Over the years I have learned there is a lot to like about being some sort of non conformist. You can dress however you like, you can eat whatever you feel like, and you can do all sorts of other things you want to do on your own. Though that last statement should have given you a clue as to a big disadvantage of being a non conformist. You might be able to safely do all sorts of things when you are alone, but when you are paired in a situation with some other sort of person - which may range from a store clerk to a potential mate - if you are a non conformist you more than likely have to watch yourself. I had few problems interacting with my family growing up - they were stuck with me, so they had to get used to me - but with people outside of my family, well, that was a completely different story. It was really hard at times while I was growing up. Frequently I couldn't get people to accept me or at least understand my point of view. That was hard, because despite being a non conformist, there were certain times when I wanted to be accepted, to know that my presence was wanted and appreciated. The various rejections that I got really left a mark. Even today, though I have long reached the age of adulthood, sometimes when a person is friendly towards me I think to myself, "Why on earth are you interested in me?" And when I want to be friendly towards a person, my mind starts to race a mile a minute, with thoughts such as "What do I do and say to get this conformist person interested in a non conformist me?" racing through my head.

There's no doubt about it - if you are a non conformist, it can put strain on the times you decide you want to interact with regular people in the mostly conformist world. Fortunately, there are ways in this modern world of ours where non conformist people can often find people like themselves. The Internet is one big way where people can find friends, soul mates, or relationships that are Quackser Fortunemuch deeper. While I have found the Internet handy to meet others like myself, I have to admit that I haven't found "the one" yet - "the one" being a woman I'd like to spend the rest of my life with. Mostly that's due to the reason being that I still enjoy most of my bachelor lifestyle, though I have to admit that women often perplex me, saying but then doing different things. It probably should come to no surprise that I look fondly on movies concerning non conformists who do manage to find someone to love - which is why I was attracted to Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx, which has the very non-conformist Gene Wilder (Willy Wonka And The Chocolate Factory) in its cast. In the movie, Wilder plays Quackser Fortune, a citizen of limited education living in modern day Dublin, Ireland. Unlike many of his peers, who have chosen to work jobs of drudgery in the city's various foundries, Quackser is self employed, following the various delivery carts around the city to collect the horses' dung, which he then sells as fertilizer. He is content and happy with his job, but does not know that recently the authority figures of Dublin have decided to do away with horse-pulled delivery carts and replace them with gas-powered vehicles. It's around this time that Quackser is one day almost run over by a car as he is at work on the streets of Dublin. He later bumps into the driver of the car, and finds out she is a student from the United States named Zazel (Kidder, Superman). She finds the non-conformity of Quackser interesting and intriguing, and pretty soon after a romance of sorts blooms between them. Actually, the idea that there is a romance between the two seems just to be in the mind of Quackser - Zazel soon shows signs that she is feeling that this is one relationship that cannot last. Is Quackser headed for great unhappiness, not just with his relationship with Zazel, but with the prospect of losing his livelihood?

I like Gene Wilder, enough that I think it's a pity that he retired from the silver screen sooner that I would have liked. As you probably know, more often than not he plays characters with a deranged and kooky side to them, a side Wilder likes to rip into to hilarious effect. However, in Quackser Fortune, Wilder plays a much different character than usual. Quackser Fortune may be considered a kind of oddball with his unusual job and his refusal to conform, but he is very mellow about it. He seldom raises his voice, and the one time that he does get angry, he doesn't allow his rage to really vent out or to stay for very long. This character has found happiness, and doesn't feel he has to change his lifestyle unless he finds something else pleasant to add to it. When Zazel comes into his life, he accepts this new person because (at least at first) she seems very accepting of his non-conformity. She doesn't mind that Quackser can barely read, nor does she mind that he hasn't visited any of the various famed places in Dublin as well as the fact that he doesn't know that much about these places. This is a much simpler character than what you'd normally associate with Wilder, and Wilder does pretty well in this unusual role. It is a little jarring at first to hear Wilder speak with an Irish accent, though you'll soon adjust, in part due to the fact the Irish supporting players often are hard to make out with their genuine accents. Wilder puts a lot of heart into this simple man, enough that you'll know what his character is thinking or feeling even when he's not saying a word. When he does speak, he puts a lot of conviction into his words, so when he says something like, "As long as there's one horse left, I'll work me own business," you'll be on his side, even while at the same time you see the great forces that threaten Quackser's happiness.

Wilder's simple but effective performance is well matched by the one put forward by Margot Kidder. This was Kidder's second movie, and she was not famous yet, but being paired with a much more famous star doesn't seem to have intimidated her at all. When Quackser and Zazel first meet, and for the characters' next few meetings, Kidder is sunny and upbeat. Although the character of Zazel is, unlike Quackser, rich, high class, and well educated, she comes across all the same as a very likable person in these early scenes. While the script does dictate a lot of this with Zazel's dialogue and actions, Kidder does her own part with her warm delivery. Interestingly, as the movie further progresses, the movie does keep part of her sympathetic to the audience as some serious cracks start to form in the relationship. On the surface, some of these cracks come across as thoughtless behavior on the part of Zazel - she is late for one meeting with Quackser, simply forgets about making another meeting later, and invites Quackser to a high class party when she should have known he would never fit in with her crowd. But at the same time, the movie makes clear that Zazel comes from another world - her upbringing in America as well as that education and different social circle make her in so many ways a complete opposite to Quackser. Quite frankly, it is amazing that for some time the two characters seem to fit well with each other. So it should come as no surprise that some major problems eventually come into this relationship. Towards the end of the movie, Kidder has a scene when she without words tells us in the audience that she finally realizes that this relationship she is in cannot last. While it is a kind of hurtful thought and our heart goes out to Quackser, in that silence we can read her face and see she feels she's in over her head, so we still have some sympathy for her. It's a very good moment of subtle acting.

A bonus to that moment I just talked about is the fact that Kidder acts out that scene without wearing any clothes at all, which I only mention so that all those people doing a Google search on "naked Margot Kidder" will stumble across this review. Getting back to Quackser Fortune, by now you might have started to wonder if the movie has any laughs after all my discussion about the complex characters and the good acting. While the movie was advertised as a comedy, it really isn't. It's more of a drama with a good share of light-hearted moments, amusing at times but never laugh-out-loud funny. That's the way that I think it was intended to be, and while I thought the movie was going to be a serious comedy, I did find the majority of these serious moments to be effective. Moments like when an upset Quackser runs home after finding out the city's horses have been sent to the slaughterhouse - and not getting as sympathetic a reaction from his mother as he'd like - have a surprising amount of power to them. These moments work because there was obviously a lot of effort by Wilder and director Waris Hussein to make Quackser a likable fellow that the audience would admire on many levels, such as with his non-conformity. You will hope that Quackser will find happiness in the end, and you'll be engrossed with his various struggles from start to end. About the only objection I have with the movie is the ending, where things are settled in a manner that many people will find both too convenient and neat. A more realistic ending might have been more effective, but since I cared about this character so much I didn't mind that ending so much. In the end, Quackser Fortune is a good viewing choice for non-conformists at heart, as well as for people who'd like to see Gene Wilder in a much different role and setting than you'd normally associate with him.

(Posted February 24, 2016)

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See also: Breezy, My First Mister, Steelyard Blues

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